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Buying a Home Sight Unseen

Whenever possible, it's best to see a home in person before submitting a contract offer.  For some people in certain situations though, that may not be possible.  Dianna Bentley has helped a number of out-of-town buyers find just the right home to buy.  She joins us to share the do's and don'ts of buying a home sight-unseen.




Full Episode



Dianna (00:00):

So I've kind of seen it all at this point, on the sight unseen. Ba-dum-bump.

Adam (00:06):

From every angle, yeah.

            Welcome to episode 13 of Keepin' It Real. I'm your host, Adam Tabaka. Today, we'll discover what you need to know about buying a home, sight unseen, with Dianna Bentley. A Navy brat who grew up all across the East Coast, Dianna earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from University of Maryland University College and a master's degree in international relations from American Military University. Dianna is a realtor with Long & Foster in Old Town, Alexandria, and serves clients across Northern Virginia and Washington DC. She holds credentials as a Military Relocation Professional, Accredited Buyer's Representative, and Pricing Strategy Advisor and also specializes in working with first-time homebuyers, a former Rookie of the Year Award winner, NVAR Top Producer in 2019 and 2020. Dianna is a two-time Iron Man finisher, worked at eight different embassies, and makes an incredible paella. It's my honor to introduce the one, the only Dianna Bentley. Dianna, thanks for joining us today. It's great to see you.

Dianna (01:21):

Thank you for having me.

Adam (01:23):

Before we dig in now to buying a home sight unseen, tell us how did you get started as a realtor?

Dianna (01:31):

So I got started as a realtor. One thing I didn't mention when we were chatting about the intro was I served in the military for 26 years, the army, retired three years ago in October. And at the time, Long & Foster was offering free pre-licensing training to veterans and military. And being retired and not having a job, I said, well, why don't I learn something new? So I signed up for in-person pre-licensing training, had a wonderful instructor. She really kind of generated an excitement about being a realtor about real estate. So I passed my pre-licensing course and said, well, I guess I'll get my license. And I guess I'll be with Long & Foster. You know, it's all about, they provided something for me, so hey, I'm going to give back. And I never regret my decision to go with Long & Foster. It's been a fun ride ever since.

Adam (02:31):

I would wholeheartedly agree on that front. Now, now tell us, what do you think might be the biggest misconception that the general public might have about being a realtor?

Dianna (02:41):

I think the biggest misconception, especially in this market we've had recently, is that it's easy work, deals happen so fast, things close so quickly. But in reality, yes, deals close so fast, but there's so much more that goes on behind the scenes, contracts, inspections, advising buyers on how to draft offers to get their offers accepted when competing in multiple offer situations, advising sellers on the market, on how to appropriately price their listings to get them sold quickly. Sometimes we all make it look so easy, but that's just because of our experience because we've been there and done that and know what it takes to get it done. And we want to serve our clients. We want everything to go as smoothly as possible. So sometimes, what looks easy behind the scene takes a whole lot of work to make it smooth and seamless for our clients.

Adam (03:48):

Well said. I could not have said it any better myself. Now, you've worked with both buyers who have purchased homes sight unseen and with sellers who have sold homes to buyers purchasing sight unseen.

Dianna (04:02):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adam (04:03):

So, tell us a little bit about your experiences with sight-unseen sales.

Dianna (04:08):

So my very first client was an old friend and colleague from my days in the embassies that was moving back to the United States. He was State Department, his family was State Department, moving back to the United States. And says, "Dianna, we want you to help us find a house." I'm like, "Great. When do you get back to the States?" He's like, "Not till June." Well, this was January. He's like, "But we want to close before we get back. We want a house to walk right into when we land in the United States." So I was like, "Oh wow. Great. Let's figure out how to do this."

            So that was my crash course, my very first client. And then, actually, my second client, as well, was a military member. Also, someone I had known from my time in the military, coming back to the states, same thing. They wanted to move right in. And actually, they came back the day before settlement and moved right in. I've also helped a few renters rent sight unseen. And most recently, I was on the listing side, working with my seller who accepted an offer from a buyer doing sight unseen. So I've kind of seen it all at this point on the sight unseen. Ba-dum-bump.

Adam (05:25):

From every angle, yeah. Okay, so let's look at the buy-side for a second. For buyers who might be thinking of purchasing a home sight unseen, talk us through what the process should look like.

Dianna (05:41):

So I wouldn't say it's like a step one, step two, step three process, but know your timeline. And most people that are buying sight unseen, they work for the government or maybe they're relocating, something. Kind of have your timeline set because the most important thing, and you'll hear this over and over, is that mortgage preapproval. So shop around lenders. Find the best rates and terms. I guess the next step would be find a realtor. Often your realtor works with a particular lender, or they work with a few lenders, local lenders that can support you in the best way. Finding a realtor, sometimes people are like, I don't know any realtors. How do I find a realtor? Trust me. The best way, ask people you trust. Ask people you know. I'm a member of a few Facebook groups. And all the time folks are, can someone recommend a realtor that works in this particular part of Northern Virginia or this particular part of DC? So ask around. Or you can just call me or call Adam, and we'll support you.

            But get referrals. And when you interview those agents, ask them for referrals, ask them for buyers they've worked with. Ask them how they, I guess, how they go about showing homes when you're not there? And I've done it both ways. I've done virtual walkthroughs with FaceTime where my clients ask me questions live and in person through FaceTime. But I've also just done video walkthroughs, photo tours, trying to get as much information for them as possible that might not be in the listing. Because in every listing, the agent's going to make that house shine. But when you walk in a home, that's what you're lacking when you buy sight unseen is being able to walk in the front door. So as best as I can, I try to take them from the front door, from the front yard, through the house, but. I'm going off on a tangent here.

Adam (08:00):

Oh, no. It's good. No, you're absolutely right because, and I'm sure you've had this experience a number of times where you take a look at photos online and a great photographer with great equipment and who knows how to frame photos just right. Place looks great online, and you get there, and you're just like, it's okay. It's not quite the same place that you thought it was from the pictures.

Dianna (08:25):

Right. It's really kind of a leap of faith on the buyer's side. And it's not just about the house. As a buyer, you really have to do your research on things like the neighborhoods, schools, commuting options, commuting routes, commuting distances to your work. And fortunately, there's so much information online now that you can use to research neighborhoods, research commuting lengths. As a real estate agent, I can advise you on all things real estate, but I can't tell you whether you're going to like this neighborhood or whether this is the best school district for your kids to be in. That's something you need to decide ahead of time. And again, if you know folks that have lived in the area before, ask them. Do research online. There's some great resources out there about all the schools, public, private schools in the area. Yeah. So definitely do your research.

            And then, when you hire your real estate agent, let them know your parameters. We want to be within this school district. Because it's really tough when my clients say Dianna, we want to be in a good school zone. I don't know what that means to you, so you have to tell me. And the same with neighborhoods. Dianna, we only want to be in a safe neighborhood. We all want to be in a safe neighborhood, but which neighborhood is that to you? It's very tough as a real estate agent when I get those questions, and a lot of it's because of fair housing laws. Because of fair housing laws, you have to make those decisions. I can't steer you one way or the other.

Adam (10:12):

Yeah. Very, very good points. Yeah. Steering, that's one of the old real estate exam questions. Yeah. I know.

Dianna (10:19):

Yes. Yes, it is.

Adam (10:23):

So, from a buyer's standpoint, what could be some of the problems or pitfalls that could crop up purchasing a home sight unseen if they weren't to do all the due diligence, maybe?

Dianna (10:36):

I guess the biggest pitfall is what if you don't like the house?

Adam (10:41):


Dianna (10:42):

You know? That's another thing. As a real estate agent, I can't tell you if you're going to love this place. I can give you an objective evaluation of the property. I can give you the pictures. I can recommend excellent home inspectors to support you. So yeah, the biggest thing is kind of what if I don't like it? One of the ways you can mitigate that is if you have a friend in the area, if you have a colleague in the area that you trust, have them go along with your real estate agent, have them go to the home inspection, kind of a third party, completely objective opinion. Because your real estate agent, again, they can advise you only on real estate matters and not really if you're going to like the place. So sometimes having that outside opinion really does help kind of mitigate that what if I don't like it scenario?

Adam (11:50):

Well, that's excellent advice. Absolutely. Now for sellers, on the other hand, who are considering accepting an offer that comes in sight unseen, what concerns might they have, and what could they do to ensure that their transaction goes as smoothly as possible?

Dianna (12:10):

For the sellers, it really is just treating it kind of like a normal transaction, understanding that the buyers haven't seen it. Some buyers try to come back for the home inspection. Some can't. Sometimes the buyers don't even come back for the walkthrough. It's the agent and hopefully, a friend of theirs or a colleague of theirs representing their interests. So for the seller, just kind of knowing that it is sight unseen, emotions could come into play, but understanding that. And for both buyers and sellers, once you enter into a contract to purchase a home, you're bound by the terms of that contract. And if all the contingencies have been satisfied, like home inspection, maybe HOA, or condo doc review, there's not a lot of options if you have buyer's remorse.

            So if that happens, it's a tough situation to be in for both buyers and sellers. Buyers can ask to be released, but it's something that has to be agreed on by both parties. So just understanding that once you're under contract, you're under contract. And again, a real estate agent can advise you and all things real state, but there comes a point when if you have that buyer's remorse, you might need to seek legal advice.

Adam (13:45):


Dianna (13:45):

That's the doom and gloom I didn't want to get to, but it is a very real thing when it happens.

Adam (13:52):

Well, no. I mean, I think you've maybe experienced a bit of that.

Dianna (13:56):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adam (13:58):

Do you care to, maybe, share a little bit with us, or?

Dianna (14:01):

Sure. I'm a little bit traumatized, but I recently had a listing where the buyers bought sight unseen, and the buyer's agent was very engaging, very upfront with me about their circumstances. And we had a home inspection. We gave the HOA docs, so basically, we removed all the contingencies. When the buyers came back, of course, they want to see the house. When they saw it in person, they have buyer's remorse. All the contingencies had been removed. So they didn't have a contractual way to void the contract. They asked to be released from the contract, but the seller, because of where he was going in life, was not willing to release them from the contract. It was a very stressful time. I'm sure for both the buyers and my seller. We did eventually close. We did settle. But just know, when it comes to real estate, a lot of emotions can come into play.

            But I know their agent. Their agent was present for the home inspection. Their agent walked them through everything, videos, pictures. She asked me if she could walk them through virtually before they put in the contract. So I think their agent did everything she could have. What I would advise is if you have that friend to go along with your agent, just to give you, again, that kind of third party objective look, or maybe third party critical look at the home. Because again, the agent can't sit there and say, you're going to love this place. I know you're going to love it because there's a chance you might not.

            Now in my experience, getting away from the doom and gloom. Again, my buyers were happy as clams. The folks that I helped rent sight unseen, happy as clams. 99 times out of 100, everything's going to be fine. But just know it's very different seeing a home in a virtual world than it is walking through that front door. So I guess another way to mitigate that as buyers, engage that home inspector. Get them on the phone. Sometimes home inspectors can do virtual walkthroughs. Or set aside a few hours to be on Zoom, and walk through that house while they're doing the home inspection just like you were here in person. But yeah, everything you can. Have a friend there, get on the phone, ask lots of questions. I don't know what else to say.

            Just because sometimes, just the way life goes. Sometimes the timeline is you need to buy that house sight unseen. You have to move in on a certain date because of military requirements, employer requirements. You have kids that need to be in school. So it is kind of a big leap of faith. But as a realtor, I'm here to help you purchase that home, help you feel comfortable purchasing that home. But again, I don't want to go back to the doom and gloom. But like I said, 99 times out of 100, everyone's happy with how things go. But again, I just recently had a buyer's remorse case. And just be aware that could happen, I guess.

Adam (18:07):

Well, yeah. Absolutely. I mean, people experience buyer's remorse even on homes that they have seen that they have walked through [crosstalk 00:18:13] the time.

Dianna (18:12):

That's true. That's very true.

Adam (18:12):

You know, you're just kind of ratcheting up the stakes a little bit when it's a place that you haven't seen.

Dianna (18:18):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adam (18:19):

So it's tricky. You've done a marvelous job navigating those waters multiple times.

Dianna (18:28):

Thank you.

Adam (18:29):

So for anybody out there who is thinking of moving to this area, to Northern Virginia or DC who needs a great realtor with a lot of experience working sight unseen, reach out to Dianna. Her contact info is going to be below. Give her a call. Shoot her an email. She is one of the very best when it comes to helping clients find a place sight unseen.

Dianna (18:52):

Thank you.

Adam (18:53):

Dianna, thank you so much for joining us today.

Dianna (18:57):

Thank you, Adam.

Adam (18:58):

It was awesome talking to you.

Dianna (18:58):

Thank you. Likewise, thank you for having me.

Adam (19:00):

All right. Have a great one, now. Take care.


Adam Tabaka

Long & Foster Old Town Alexandria, VA - Realty
400 King Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
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